How 5 communities across the US are seeking environmental justice

July 6, 2020 by  
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How 5 communities across the US are seeking environmental justice Kristoffer Tigue Mon, 07/06/2020 – 01:00 This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. In many ways, Maleta Kimmons defines her neighborhood by what it lacks. Several houses near her home remain vacant. Last week, she had to drive seven miles just to buy groceries. And two weeks ago, at the height of the Minneapolis protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer May 25, looters broke into the only pharmacy in the area, forcing the store to close and leaving many in the neighborhood without easy access to life-saving medication such as insulin or inhalers for asthma. Kimmons, who prefers to go by the name Queen, said what her neighborhood doesn’t lack is pollution. Near North, where Queen lives, is one of several neighborhoods that make up north Minneapolis, a  predominately Black area surrounded by a large number of polluting facilities and infrastructure, including roofing manufacturers, a trash incinerator, a metal recycling plant and several major interstate highways. The ZIP code that covers much of north Minneapolis has the highest hospitalization rates for asthma in Minnesota, according to Minnesota Public Radio . It’s also home to the highest rates of lead poisoning among children in the city. Add the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on top of these factors, and her neighborhood is in a “horrific” situation, said Queen, who is Black. “Where are you going to get an asthma pump when Walgreens is closed?” she said. “I know a lot of people that have asthma, particularly in North.” Queen moved to Minnesota from Chicago in 1974 at the age of 10, first living in what used to be St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood —  a once-thriving African American hub before it was cut in half by the construction of Interstate 94 in the late ’50s. Her family, she said, was “looking for a better life, where there would be more resources, education, housing.” You’ve got to have ownership. … It’s race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story. Eventually, Queen’s family moved to south Minneapolis. But in the 1990s, she said, the area became gentrified and too expensive, so she left for the city’s cheaper north side. Queen attributes the issues that north Minneapolis faces today — the vacant homes, the poor access to medicine and food, the proximity to industrial pollution — to a lack of Black ownership and the political power that accompanies wealth. “Right now, over in North, you can’t name 10 Black businesses — they ain’t there,” she said. “If you don’t own anything, you’re not changing nothing.” In 2018, the median household income in Queen’s neighborhood was about $39,000 , compared to the state average of more than $70,300 . As protests raged across much of south Minneapolis, destroying several blocks of Lake Street — another historic city business corridor —  Queen helped rally residents on the north side to protect the few Black-owned stores that do exist along Broadway Avenue from more looting. (Much of the looting came from out-of-towners, Queen said.) The destruction she witnessed reminded her of the stories she had heard of the 1967 riots, which also destroyed parts of north Minneapolis . And it reminded her of seeing her first limousine in 1974 outside of a black-owned pool hall in St. Paul. She remembers her Black neighbors inside the stretched-out sedan, a symbol of wealth, celebrating in their “loud colors,” their button-up shirts and their hard shoes. She remembers just years later, many of the Black-owned businesses shuttering their doors along Rondo’s Selby Avenue — today, an upscale food co-op stands where the pool hall used to be. “You’ve got to have ownership,” Queen said. “It’s race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story.” St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: ‘We’ve already been written off’ Reserve, Louisiana, had an agrarian economy when Robert Taylor was born. His parents worked at a local sugar refinery. “I’m a lifelong resident,” he said. “I was born here in 1940, so I’ve seen some changes.” When he was a boy, he said, “I could just walk out my house and go out my backyard and I was in a sugar cane field.” By the time he was a young man, the petrochemical industry was moving in. He bought a plot of land on the edge of town and built a home, finished by the time his fourth child was born, he said. “I went and got my wife from the hospital and brought her with our child to our new home.” Around the same time, he said, DuPont began operating a new chemical plant less than a thousand yards from the home. St. John the Baptist Parish, which includes Reserve, lies within Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” a stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is cluttered with petrochemical development and the pollution it brings. The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxics Assessment, which uses emissions estimates to model health risks, estimates that the risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and that the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area. But as Taylor watched the development spring up around him, he didn’t know any of that. All he knew was that a lot of people seemed to be getting sick. Several family members have died of cancer, he said, while his wife is a cancer survivor. It wasn’t until four years ago that Taylor began to connect what he saw with the industry that had developed around him. The risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area. “I came home one night and my wife was so sick, and the odor was so horrible coming from the plant, that I called 911,” he said. “And the emergency personnel, they were taken aback by the odor. Of course, all of them was white, none of them lived in the community I lived in,” he said. Almost two-thirds of Reserve’s residents are Black. It never occurred to him that other parts of the parish didn’t have it as bad. And soon after that incident, the EPA arrived and began monitoring for a chemical, chloroprene, that is used in the nearby plant and is considered by the agency to be a “likely carcinogen.” “I got the first results of the monitoring; it scared the heck out of me,” he said. When the EPA found high levels of the chemical in the air near a school, “that’s really what sparked the people to join me and we formed this Concerned Citizens of St. John.” His group has been trying ever since to get Denka Corporation, which bought the plant from DuPont in 2015, to limit emissions. Denka did not reply to requests for comment from InsideClimate News, but a company website says it has voluntarily reduced emissions and that “there is no evidence to suggest Denka’s operations are harmful to local residents.” Taylor’s wife now lives in California, to be away from the pollution. Some of his children have moved out of the parish, too. His great-granddaughter was born recently nearby, “and she has no future here,” he said.  But he feels trapped with his home. Beyond the low value of the property, Taylor said, he wouldn’t feel right selling to another family, only to have them live with the same burden. “We’ve already been written off. We’re walking dead people,” he said. “We’ve been sacrificed.” Bears Ears National Monument, Utah: Trump ended tribal governance Alfred Lomahquahu helped build the five-tribe coalition that proposed the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. The land might seem remote, but the struggle against racial and environmental injustice has been no different for the indigenous people of the Southwest than for those protesting on the streets of the world’s cities. “People are actually getting united,” said Lomahquahu, a Hopi. “That’s the main thing that the government is afraid of, that’s why they don’t want these protests going on.” The coalition’s work focused on protecting red rock canyons and pinion-dotted desert containing hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites and areas of deep cultural significance to the Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Utes. “We started speaking with [President Barack] Obama on a one-to-one, government-to-government basis,” said Lomahquahu, now community administrator in the Hopi village of Baqavi in northern Arizona. “Part of our strategy was that we were going to work side by side with [the U.S. Bureau of Land Management] and all these other government entities as part of the planning for the whole monument.” The Obama administration embraced the idea, establishing and empowering a Bears Ears Commission when it created the monument. Lomahquahu was the commission’s co-chair until it was abolished when the Trump administration downsized the monument by 85 percent not quite a year later. Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet. Trump administration officials rebuffed commissioners and other monument supporters, he said. “But we already knew at that point that everything that we achieved was going to go down the drain — and for every other minority, too.” Yet, the experience also showed the tribes, historically at odds with one another, the power of working together, he added. Later, conservation groups, professional societies, recreation groups and even large companies such as Patagonia joined the tribes’ campaign to protect the land from mining and pollution. “Some people are going to use their privilege in order to help others that aren’t privileged,” Lomahquhu said. “I think that’s something that you really need to look at now. … Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet.” New uranium mining, coal-fired power and oil and gas development in the region are other threats that the Four Corners region has faced. More recently, Indian Country communities have united against COVID-19. “We’re just waiting for Trump to leave office,” Lomahquhu said, “so we can get back in there and regroup again and bring all entities back together.” The Rockaways, Queens, N.Y.: Young leaders of color building resilient communities Milan Taylor was 21 when he founded the Rockaway Youth Task Force in 2011, to sponsor community clean-ups and encourage voter registration in this outlying neighborhood on a barrier island in Queens. A year later, after Hurricane Sandy left homes four to 10 feet underwater and knocked out power for days, Taylor found himself helping to lead rescue and relief efforts in a neighborhood that was 60 percent African American and Hispanic and the poverty line was 20 percent higher than the state average. He mobilized hundreds of volunteers in a widespread effort to assess the needs and deliver food and medications to hundreds of home-bound community members, including elderly and disabled residents. As they meticulously canvassed high-rise apartment buildings, the major relief organizations and the NYPD seemed strangely missing in action. “Sandy gave us the exposure that [the Rockaway Youth Task Force] needed to grow,” said Taylor, now 31 and the group’s executive director.  And a good thing that is, with climate scientists predicting sea level rise of at least a foot by 2050, which will make the Rockaways more prone to climate change-fueled flooding and storm surges than they already are.   “What we’re trying to accomplish as an organization is to build more resilient communities,” Taylor said, “We want to be there, whether it’s a disaster brought about by climate change or even human disasters” — a reference to the ongoing protests for racial justice and an end to police violence.  The conversation of Black lives mattering isn’t just limited to police violence … It also extends to climate justice. Taylor said that it is important for the task force, made up largely of young people of color, to be “led by our own constituency, meaning that those who are directly impacted decide which direction and which campaigns we take on as an organization.”  Despite being told after Sandy that his organization couldn’t grow, he said, “We’re still here … still doing work, still helping our communities and still training the next generation of leaders.” He noted that one former RYTF organizer, Khaleel Anderson, is running for the New York State Assembly.  In the future, Taylor said, he hopes the broader climate movement embraces his work with the task force, which recognizes how race, gender and socioeconomic factors contribute to environmental injustice. “The conversation of Black lives mattering isn’t just limited to police violence,” Taylor said. “It also extends to climate justice.” Los Angeles: Latino children in Boyle Heights play in lead-contaminated soil Idalmis Vaquero sees such joy in the exuberance of a neighborhood boy named R.J. The 6-year-old runs to her to show off his newest feat — a backflip — on the dusty patch of grass outside of their aging apartment complex owned by the Los Angeles Housing Authority. Yet there is a dark contradiction between the glee of this boy and the reality of life in the shadow of a lead recycling plant that has poisoned the ground that dirties R.J.’s bare feet. The boy, like so many other children and families living in this neighborhood, is exposed every day to the high concentrations of lead that have contaminated this mostly Latino community just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The Exide Technologies recycling plant and its predecessors emitted lead, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants, leaving homes, apartments, schools, parks and day care centers with dangerously high levels of lead-contaminated soil. Vaquero, 26, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, grew up in public housing in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, where she still lives and where her parents settled after emigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago. There has been little change in her neighborhood since she was a child. Factories, smoke stacks and exhaust-belching diesel trucks define the community more than grassy parks and welcoming recreation centers. So she worries about the future of R.J. and other children. “Living here will have an impact on the quality of life for the rest of their lives,” she said. “It makes me mad that our lives are not considered equal when it comes to addressing environmental hardships.” As many as 250,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos, face a chronic health hazard from exposure to airborne lead and arsenic that subsequently settled into the soil from the recycling plant, according to a 2013 health risk assessment by the South Coast Air Quality Management District . The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices. Lead contamination has been found in children growing up in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery plant, a University of Southern California study found . Lead is a neurotoxin, and there is no level that is considered safe in humans. The 15-acre recycling facility operated in the industrial city of Vernon for decades with minimal regulatory oversight. It churned out poisonous pollution around the clock seven days a week as the lead from 25,000 old car batteries was melted down every day for use in producing new batteries. The facility received more than 100 environmental violations for such things as lead and acid leaks and maintaining an overflowing pond of toxic sludge. The Exide plant was shut down in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also ordered the company to pay $50 million to clean up the site and nearby neighborhoods. The state later pledged $75 million for the ongoing cleanup, overseen by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control . The cleanup has been painfully slow, which Vaquero takes as yet another signal that her neighborhood and neighbors are just a forgotten footnote in a city defined by the glitz of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.  Vaquero majored in environmental studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she made the decision to stand up for her community and others like hers. She described the environmental injustices in her community in a 2016 thesis : “The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices,” she wrote. “The community’s power and resilience will prevail and environmental justice will be served to Southeast Los Angeles.” Pull Quote You’ve got to have ownership. … It’s race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story. The risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area. Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet. The conversation of Black lives mattering isn’t just limited to police violence … It also extends to climate justice. The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices. Contributors Nicholas Kusnetz Judy Fahys Ilana Cohen David Hasemyer Topics Climate Change Environmental Justice California Policy & Politics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off People march in St. James, Louisiana, a small Black community at the end of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, to demand a safe and open evacuation route. Given the level of toxicity in this parish, it has earn the name of Cancer Alley. Credit:  Fernando Lopez for Survival Media Agency

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How 5 communities across the US are seeking environmental justice

The Eco-Unfriendly Truths About Fireworks

July 2, 2020 by  
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They light up the sky beautifully, those bright and bold … The post The Eco-Unfriendly Truths About Fireworks appeared first on Earth911.com.

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The Eco-Unfriendly Truths About Fireworks

We Earthlings: Laundry Tips To Reduce Microplastic Pollution

June 30, 2020 by  
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Did you know that by reducing the temperature of a … The post We Earthlings: Laundry Tips To Reduce Microplastic Pollution appeared first on Earth911.com.

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We Earthlings: Laundry Tips To Reduce Microplastic Pollution

Taming plastic waste with silica plastic blocks

June 23, 2020 by  
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In a bid to curb plastic waste pollution, India-based company Rhino Machines has invented a way of using plastic to make construction blocks. The silica plastic blocks (SPBs) are strong enough to build a house and can be useful in reducing world pollution problems. As the company behind this new technology, Rhino Machines experimented to determine the viability of making construction bricks from waste plastic and foundry dust. According to the company, they conducted experiments in collaboration with R+D Labs to prove that SPBs can be used to replace traditional construction blocks. Why recycle plastic waste? This experiment came from the need to find a permanent solution to India’s growing plastic waste problem. According to 2012 estimations by the Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCB), India generates close to 26,000 tons of plastic a day. Additionally, as  The Economic Times  reports, over 10,000 tons of plastic waste go uncollected each day. This plastic waste litters streets, landfills and the seas. Furthermore, as non-biodegradable waste, the plastic ends up polluting rivers, agricultural land and even estates. The plastic waste pollution problem is not limited to India. According to a 2017  National Geographic  publication, over 91% of the plastic waste produced globally is not recycled. The same publication points out that as of 2018, the world has generated over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since plastic began being mass-produced. About 6.3 billion metric tons of this waste ends up as waste in landfills , oceans and rivers. National Geographic also points out that if the global community doesn’t contain the current trend of plastic waste pollution, landfills will house 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste by 2050. All the problems caused by plastic waste are now pushing scientists and innovators to look for solutions that will create a sustainable world. Although some countries have banned single-use plastics , the current amount of plastic waste still takes an enormous toll on the environment. Technologies such as SPBs can help significantly reduce this waste. The convergence of plastic waste pollution problems and a need for urban housing developments also presents a unique opportunity for SPBs. According to the United Nations,  55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas . In urban areas, high population density leads to exacerbated plastic waste problems. The U.N. further estimates that about 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. By using available plastic waste to build housing for the growing urban population, SPBs could help reduce world plastic pollution.  How are SPBs made? When Rhino Machines started the SPB project, its objective was to attain zero waste through the reclamation of foundry waste . Initially, the experiment tested using foundry dust with cement to make bricks. This experiment resulted in 7-10% waste recycled for cement bricks and 15% waste recycled for clay bricks. The company realized the experiment required using resources such as cement , soil and water, which was not justified by the waste recycled. Further research led the team to use foundry dust with plastic waste to boost the project’s sustainability. Using plastic waste as a bonding agent eliminated the need for water and cement during mixing. Why SPBs? Building with SPBs contributes to the environment in two ways. Producing the blocks requires a mixture of about 80% foundry dust with about 20% plastic. Consequently, the project does not need water or cement. This means that the blocks use less natural resources while also reducing inorganic waste. The experiment to produce SPBs also uncovered additional positive revelations. Apart from the fact that these blocks are sustainable, they also offer the construction industry a strong building alternative. According to  Technology Times , SPBs are 2.5 times stronger than normal red clay blocks. Additionally, as SPBs are made from waste, “the cost of production can easily compete with the commonly available red clay brick or the CMU (concrete masonry unit).” Rhino Machines approached several organizations including hospitals, schools and local municipal corporations to collect clean plastic for the project. In about four months, the company collected over six tons of plastic waste and 15 tons of foundry dust. This collection helps demonstrate just how much plastic waste is available to be used in the production of SPBs. Furthermore, the company is “preparing to come up with an ecosystem solution so that the foundries across the country can develop and distribute” SPBs. As described in a statement from Rhino Machines, this is part of an effort to bring SPBs to impact zones that are part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), “a Government of India initiative for businesses to undertake philanthropic causes and give back to the community.” As the research and experimentation shows, SPBs have the potential to relieve plastic waste concerns not only in India but all over the world. If industries can adopt this new building technology , we may have hope for a future with less plastic pollution. Images via R+D Studio

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Arrivals zero-emissions buses are designed for social distancing

June 23, 2020 by  
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U.K. startup Arrival has unveiled the Arrival Bus, an eye-catching electric bus crafted to not only improve public perception of public transportation but to also respond to health concerns in the coronavirus era. Engineered for flexibility and worldwide adoption, the Arrival Bus features wraparound digital screens for easy identification and flexible seating so that passenger capacity can be controlled to follow social distancing rules. The sleek design concept also allows for the installation of plexiglass dividers between passengers and no-touch stop requests via a smartphone app. Founded in 2015, Arrival champions itself as a producer of electric commercial vehicles designed to help cities meet their net-zero emissions targets worldwide. In addition to the new Arrival Bus design, the startup recently unveiled designs for its electric delivery vans. Although there are no Arrival products currently on the road yet, the company plans to deploy 1,000 Microfactories — low-footprint automotive production facilities with Arrival assembly technology — around the world by 2026 to build all of the electric vehicles in its portfolio.  Related: Designers propose sustainable housing in response to COVID-19 lifestyle changes “We are very excited to bring the Arrival Bus to markets around the world and make the passenger experience of bus travel a positive one,” said Ben Jardine, chief of product for Arrival Bus. “By working in partnership with businesses to develop the entire ecosystem around our vehicles, we are supporting their goals of making public transport appealing whilst achieving carbon neutrality.” Arrival plans to create an integrated public transportation ecosystem that not only includes buses but also cars for sharing, taxis, delivery robots and charging infrastructure. Arrival expects to deploy the Arrival Bus in upcoming months. The electric vehicles will be built in local Microfactories using modular construction for flexibility. The use of an aluminum chassis with integrated mechanical parts will also streamline the production process, while the minimalist interior design will make the vehicle easy to clean. + Arrival Images via Arrival

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Arrivals zero-emissions buses are designed for social distancing

E-Waste: What Happens When We Fail To Recycle Electronics

June 16, 2020 by  
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Today, the average person owns three to four electronic devices. … The post E-Waste: What Happens When We Fail To Recycle Electronics appeared first on Earth911.com.

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E-Waste: What Happens When We Fail To Recycle Electronics

Discarded COVID-19 masks are now littering seas and oceans

June 10, 2020 by  
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In May, the French nonprofit Opération Mer Propre reported collecting several used face masks within waves of the Mediterranean Sea. According to the organization’s report, there has been a surge in “COVID waste”, including masks, latex gloves and plastic hand sanitizer bottles, in the past 3 months. Unfortunately, this only compounds a waste problem that has been around for many years. According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), over 13 million metric tons of plastic waste go into the oceans each year. UNEP predicts that the amount of waste dumped in the oceans will increase up to 10 times the current amount in the next 15 years. However, the UN report did not anticipate a situation where people around the world had to use face masks on a daily basis. The pandemic now complicates all efforts geared toward a safer and more sustainable environment. Related: How to safely dispose contaminated gloves, masks, wipes and more According to Joffrey Peltier of Opération Mer Propre, dozens of face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer bottles were found at the bottom of the sea among other plastic waste. Opération Mer Propre is one of many organizations concerned about the fate of the environment after the coronavirus pandemic . “Soon there will be more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean,” said Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre. Now, Opération Mer Propre and other organizations are calling for a more cautious approach to the use of face masks and other medical tools. Environmental activists are championing the use of reusable face masks and more washing of hands instead of wearing latex gloves. The oceans are already overwhelmed with plastic waste from our normal lifestyles. If we keep on pumping medical waste into the environment, we risk pushing thousands of ocean species to extinction. In the words of Peltier, “With all the alternatives, plastic isn’t the solution to protect us from COVID.” Via The Guardian Image via Noah

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Discarded COVID-19 masks are now littering seas and oceans

Good, Better, Best: Cutting Carbon From Your Diet

June 8, 2020 by  
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Good, Better, Best: Cutting Carbon From Your Diet

Good, Better, Best: Cutting Carbon From Your Diet

June 8, 2020 by  
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How Can We Stop Climate Change?

June 1, 2020 by  
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